Minding a New Dad's Mental Health
Since I became a mother (and watched my husband become a father), I have often wondered how men fare when they step over the threshold into parenthood.
I have read many articles advising the father on things to do before/following his child's birth but these things are overwhelmingly geared towards helping the mother. Obviously, working together as a team is very important but I wanted to take a step back and look at it from a father's point of view. They don't physically go through any changes, but emotionally they too go through an enormous upheaval.
Yet our society is not really geared towards helping men process this. We all know the toll lack of sleep can take on our mental health and men in this situation likely have to work while also maintaining a helping hand when they come home in the evenings. Some men are performing double duty as they take on the dual roles of main breadwinner and new father. This can be tough, as while work can provide a break from a stressful home environment, it too comes with its own pressures.
During my twenty week check-up my midwife spoke to me about the possibilities of post-natal depression and supports available if I found myself struggling. But no such information was given to my husband. Nobody asked if he had a history of depression, as this would have made him more likely to suffer post-partum. It would be useful if, at this check-up, men were encouraged to be mindful of their own mental health in the weeks and months following their child's birth.
In fact, it would be helpful if both parents were made more fully aware of how their emotions will zig-zag over the newborn stage. It can be difficult to distinguish between what's 'normal' and what isn't and this applies equally to both parents.
Often, men rely solely on their partners for emotional support and this can add to the stress that may already be present in the relationship. In this case it can help to talk to someone outside of the situation. Cura offers counselling to men and women who are finding it hard to cope as a new parent. Though attending a counselling session can be daunting it often helps just to talk through your feelings.
If you do not feel able to do this you could find a supportive friend or relative. You can also speak to your GP who may recommend a course of antidepressants to get you back on track. Remember, taking medication like this is not a sign of weakness but rather of strength that you had the courage to seek help. It is vital, too, that both you and your partner have time alone, away from the demands of being parents.
Take time out for hobbies, walks or meeting friends. This is a really good way of maintaining a sense of self in the early days. Rope in friends and family to help if you don't want to leave your partner alone. Build up a network of support for yourselves. I know this may not always be possible but even short breaks of half an hour to go for a little walk while baby sleeps can make a world of difference to your mental state.
Exercise is a really positive, simple way to maintaining a more brighter outlook. If you can, arrange an evening where you can take time out together as this helps to strengthen your relationship and gives you the time to really talk about your own feelings rather than just baby-related topics. Having a child is a momentous, challenging, scary, joyous, heart-stopping experience, and as a mom I know I went through a period of adjustment.
It is completely normal for dad to experience this too. There are many men who have gone through anxiety, stress and emotional upheaval after the birth of their child. You are not the first to go through this and you won't be the last. As a nation we can create a more open culture by ensuring that our sons as well as our daughters feel okay about expressing their feelings from a young age.
That little boys know it's okay to cry and that their feelings will be treated with the same amount of consideration as their sisters.
If you are worried about yourself or your partner's mental health after giving birth, please visit your GP, or you can get in touch with Nurture, our mental health experts.
The information contained on eumom.ie is not a substitute for examination, diagnosis or treatment by a qualified medical professional. If in doubt, always consult your doctor.